If you'd asked me a fortnight ago what exactly I'd like to be taking away from this whole experience I'd have told you having to opportunity to dive in the warm clear waters of Queensland to give me some sort of perspective after dropping below the surface in Cornwall, South West England a few weeks ago.
My great mate Dave Brown is a Dive Instructor at Porthkerris Divers and as a little refresher I experienced my first ever dip into the rather cold ten degree waters of the Atlantic Ocean but loved every second of it...12m of visibility, kelp beds, a plethora of life and my first chance to dive with a friend since Bre back in November.
Manta Lodge and Scuba Centre are based at Point Lookout on North Stradbroke Island, Dave collected me from the reception of my hotel at the ungodly hour of 06:15hrs - but the sunrise was incredible, the swell slight and the anticipation extremely high which got me out of bed as soon as the alarm went off!
On arrival at the centre we went through the safety procedures, collected my equipment and got to know my fellow divers who were mainly there to complete their PADI Open Water certification and were as excited as I was to be getting in the water. The tractor towed our RIB down to the beach and we after a simple surf launch we were out on the ocean finally!
Dave Bidduplh was to be my dive buddy, a funny little man who helped me get all of my kit on and eased me back into the routine of the correct procedures I needed to complete before heading into the stunning underwater world below the ever increasing swell. Then with a gentle splash I dropped in and was finally beneath the waterline, in went my regulator, out went my BCD air and down I dropped into the colourful world below...awesome!
Once I'd slowed my breathing, checked my buoyancy and left the group of other divers, Dave and I headed out around Flat Rock to investigate its surroundings and I wasn't disappointed. A Hawksbill Turtle launched itself off the ocean floor in front of me gracefully powering itself off into the clear warm water, thousands of bait fish swirled around my head and the multitude of corals and weird little creatures were everywhere, fantastic!
As we started to near the end of the dive a big shoal of Barracuda cruised towards us from a distance and only 5m away split down the centre and swam at speed past our heads - totally incredible and another first.
Once back on the boat with all my kit off I thought to myself how lucky I am just to have experienced this part of the day with still another dive to come.....and six months of huge adventure still ahead. WOW.
The ever increasing ocean swell resulted on four of my fellow divers turning a little green and they generously contributed to the fishes breakfast over the side of the RIB, so Tim our skipper turned the boat and powered it to Shag Rock; a more protected dive site inland of our current position. That should sort it out and after a superb 10 minute skim across the surface we arrived.
Keeping in accordance with our dive tables meant we'd have to wait on the surface before descending again, we fed on soup and snake sweets and joked together about the usual Pom v Aussie rivalry...this is going to be fun again after my South African ten years of getting used to it!
Shag Rock is a much shallower dive with depths up to 12m and the increased chance of seeing some rays and yet more turtles in the clearer visibility which was somewhere around the 15m mark. Safety checks completed Dave and I again headed into the watery world which was sploshing around us.
This was the best dive I've ever done for a number of reasons; its dive number ten for me and I felt totally comfortable with everything - equipment, buddy, breathing, the environment etc and enjoyed every second of it!! Dave took his professional underwater camera down this time and snapped away throughout the dive and I hope to have the images up on this blog and also www.afritrex.com as soon as I receive them!
Yet more turtles, wobbegong's (a beautifully ugly carpet shark which rests on the seabed), thousands of bait fish and stunning coloured worms and corals all littering the rocks and surroundings making it truly the most enjoyable dive yet. No sharks still for me, no rays or whales but they will come - this for now was good enough, I can't have too many emotions at once or I'll pop!
Back on dry land I said my thanks yous exchanged email addresses and met Sharon who was there to whip me away back to the hotel in time for a filling lunch at Look Cafe Bar just down the road.
The generosity of people here is almost overwhelming, John Henson the owner had been kind enough to give me a bottle of complimentary bubbly on the table and we enjoyed a yummy portion of Barramundi for lunch - good to be eating fish now and not looking at them. Everything in moderation of course.
Then before I knew it we had to go, the Big Red Cat wouldn't wait for us and we filled the car with our belongings and drove the short distance across the island to the slipway and sat in line with the other weekend fun-seekers. What a total blast I've had.
I can leave Australia this time around happy and content that I've done what I intended to do - get another dive in!!